Archive for the ‘Film’ CategoryFilm
Wanderweg (Canada 2013, Documentary), Writer/Director: Neeko Paluzzi
Early last week, I got an email from Neeko Paluzzi inviting me to watch and review his debut film, which premiered at the Mayfair Theatre last night. He sent this synopsis of Wanderweg:
Five years ago, when I lived in Switzerland, I wrote a letter to my future self. I hid this letter in a house somewhere in the mountains. This past summer, I mapped out an extensive 1,000km journey across Switzerland to reach the letter only by foot. With only a backpack and a camera, this documentary follows my unexpected two-month journey.
Watching Wanderweg, and in fact the entire experience of meeting Neeko and hearing him speak, was an utter delight. I’m so impressed by his talent, drive and reflection, not to mention his bravery—in making the trip on his own, revealing his raw emotions, presenting the film (along with those emotions) to the crowd at the Mayfair, and reaching out to make contact with others, which isn’t always an easy thing.
Even before Wanderweg began, Neeko’s flair for words and symbolism was obvious. He introduced the film as being, in essence, a postcard. On one side, it shows Switzerland’s physical beauty—an eye-catching snapshot. On the other side, it contains his personal thoughts and anecdotes about the country and his time there. He wrote it last summer, he said, and was now delivering it to us, his audience.
Then the movie started playing, showcasing a real gift for storytelling through film. Neeko’s editing is fantastic—the choices he makes to further the narrative, but also his sense of rhythm and pacing. He’s unafraid of holding on long static shots of him talking to the camera, but he also incorporates effects, abstract imagery, cross-cutting and other devices to vary the beats and, most importantly, advance and enhance his story.
One of the many interesting things about the documentary is the window it opens into the creative process. As Neeko mentions on the Wanderweg website, the film didn’t go as planned. He had intended to tackle his adventure foot first, but life (and body) got in the way and altered his course.
At one point during Wanderweg, Neeko laments to the camera that he isn’t where he’s supposed to be—as far as his itinerary dictated, and presumably also in life. But as popular thought keeps saying, we are always exactly where we’re supposed to be. Once Neeko embraces this notion, he sets the film free to take on a life of its own, letting the creative process do all the heavy lifting (and hard walking).
Wanderweg is indeed a study of the creative process. It’s also a study of Switzerland. The film takes different looks at the gorgeous country, both in postcard-perfect vistas, and in peeks and glimpses as people, nature and buildings exist in the background of Neeko’s frame, gracefully letting him address the camera front and centre while they make a distant but lasting impression.
We also see some of the Swiss culture and history. In particular, Neeko’s visit to the Einstein Museum in Bern plays a pivotal role in Wanderweg. While exploring the exhibit, Neeko focuses in on Einstein’s ideas about time and relativity. Afterwards, Neeko is too excited to sleep. So of course he pulls out his trusty camera to listen to him mull over the concept of relativity.
Just as Neeko-the-subject is about to arrive at one of those late-night musings that always seems so brilliant at the time, Neeko-the-filmmaker cuts away. But he brings us back later in the film to revisit the moment, presenting another take of Neeko pondering the same thoughts. It’s the only time we see two takes of the same monologue, offering an interesting self-reflection on the filmmaking process (even a documentary can be rehearsed), but also building on the film’s exploration of time, relativity and perception—how the same thoughts can appear to have changed, or to convey alternate meetings, when they’re experienced at different times.
Wanderweg is a study of many things. But perhaps most significantly, it’s a study of the human spirit. Throughout his journey in Switzerland, Neeko shows us his breaking point, and then lets us watch as he rebuilds himself and finds his way back to a path he can travel.
During the Q+A after the screening, an audience member asked where Neeko hopes to go next, with the film and with his life. He said something along the lines of wanting the film to lead him to other wanderers, people who document their travels and experience the world in a similar way.
Maybe it was a matter of having Einstein on the brain, but Neeko’s response reminded me of another scientist’s work—Carl Sagan’s book Contact, and the idea of sending out a signal to find life on other planets, to reach other beings who are simply out there, existing. Really, that’s the ultimate story of humanity. We are all, in our own ways, trying to make contact within our own universes, however big or small they may be.
So Neeko, thank you for contacting me. I very much look forward to following your travels. And congratulations on a wonderful (wanderful) first film.
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Since posting this review, I’ve emailed back and forth a bit with Neeko, and he mentioned that I’d noticed things about the film that he hadn’t before. I asked for particulars, and also about something else that had me wondering: Whether the flashback component of the pivotal scene near the film’s end, when Neeko finally goes looking for the letter he wrote approximately five years prior, was filmed actually in 2012 rather than 2006. His response was pretty insightful and interesting, so, with his permission, I’m posting it here for you to read…
Right after I post the SPOILER ALERT I promised to include. Alright, here we go, Neeko’s reply:
I didn’t specifically make the connection between my being “not on the right path” with my not being in a specific place in life. It’s true. In some ways, I think this film reflects the life structure of many artists. Planning. Failure. Self-doubt. Epiphany. Resolution. Conclusion. The structure is actually quite straightforward.
I also enjoyed that you realized that the two relativity scenes were the same scene, just shot twice. I wanted to make it feel like I was interrupting myself. Also, part two is perfectly symmetrical. The first scene being me talking in the mirror, followed by my trip to the museum. The last two scenes in part two are the same, just swapped: my trip to museum and then talking to the mirror.
As for your other question, OF COURSE this would be the one question that I was most worried about. To answer your question simply, it was filmed while I filmed Wanderweg in 2012. I had originally filmed me writing the letter in 2006, which appears in the film right when I arrive at the house in Wengen. The camera is over my shoulder and I am writing it in my lap. When I arrived in Wengen in 2012, I had come to the conclusion of the twin paradox, so I knew I needed to represent a “bridging” between these twins at the end of the film. When I arrived in the house, I saw those two windows and I knew that I had found my “bridge.” I made the right image grainy to represent the past and the left was the “present.” That was the one scene that required an artistic interpretation. I don’t want to lie and say I filmed it all in the past when I didn’t, but I thought it would be visually more symbolic to re-film it involving both the windows.Film
Still Mine (Canada 2012, Drama), Writer/Director: Michael McGowan
Bliss (Canada 2013, Drama), Writer/Director: Amanda Sage
I was pretty excited to learn that my short movie, Bliss, would be screened at the 2013 Kingston Canadian Film Festival. After all, Kingston was my stomping grounds during my Queen’s University days, and the festival was founded by my friend, and Kickass Canadian, Alex Jansen. But I was over the moon when I found out Bliss would be paired with the festival’s opening night screening of Still Mine, the latest feature from writer/director Michael McGowan.
McGowan is one of Canada’s most prominent filmmakers, with My Dog Vincent, Saint Ralph (see the Saint Ralph review from April 2009), One Week (see the One Week review from May 2009) and Score: A Hockey Musical to his credit. I’ve been a big fan of his since seeing Saint Ralph nearly 10 years ago—not long after finishing my previous short movie, Sight Lines. So having Bliss shown at the same screening as McGowan’s latest film, on top of getting to meet him and hear him speak about Still Mine, made for a pretty kickass evening.
Things started off with a Q+A led by Saturday Night at the Movies host Thom Ernst, which revealed as much about McGowan’s character as it did about his process. He’s clearly as real, funny and sincere as the films he makes. That’s no small thing, given how varied and accomplished his career has been: runner (he won the 1995 Detroit marathon), carpenter, English teacher, novelist, journalist, screenwriter, film director.
Then we moved onto the movies themselves. After seeing Bliss on the big screen for the first time (having missed its premiere at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival), I got to see the work of a real pro as Still Mine began to weave its spell. The film is based on the remarkable true story of Craig Morrison (James Cromwell), an elderly New Brunswick man who sets about building a better home for him and his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold) when her advancing Alzheimer’s makes their current house unlivable.
The challenge—as if Alzheimer’s wasn’t enough—comes when the local building inspectors continually give Craig grief over code violations, even though his tried-and-true methods are shown to be superior to modern techniques. Old vs. new. Proven vs. assumed. Logic vs. bureaucracy.
The house is deemed invalid and Craig is ordered to stop working on it. No matter that he’d been building it with all the knowledge he’d inherited from his father (who’d been a professional joiner) and the skills he’d developed over eight decades. Or that there is nothing structurally unsound about the building. And so Craig is forced to choose between the right way or the legal way of going forward.
All the old familiar faces of a Michael McGowan film come out for Still Mine. That perfect mixture of heartfelt and humorous, which McGowan says he strives for in all his stories. A male protagonist butting heads with authority, choosing to chart his own course. A man trying to navigate a relationship with the woman in his life.
But of all the McGowan films I’ve seen, this one features the strongest female counterpart yet. Irene is a layered and complex woman who clearly matters deeply to her husband. Their history is long and firmly rooted, and as perfectly imperfect as the knots in the wood that forms their foundation. This richly drawn relationship is what gives the film its heart.
There’s a moment in Still Mine that reminds me of the most powerful scene in Sarah’s Polley’s Away From Her (see the Away From Her review from July 2007), another film about an elderly couple grappling with a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. The moment in Polley’s film features Grant (Gordon Pinsent) leaving Fiona (Julie Christie) for what may be the last time as their former selves—the last time she’ll still remember the life they had. In Still Mine, the moment comes when Irene asks Craig to undress for her.
“It’s been awhile,” he says, before removing his clothes. Irene does the same and then steps into his embrace, holding on tight. In that moment, you can see the years that came before and imagine how many times they’ve come together like that, their bodies slowly aging all the while, bringing them towards this moment.
In the Q+A, McGowan said that his goal in that scene wasn’t to capture nudity, but to capture intimacy. He absolutely succeeded. The nudity couldn’t be further from gratuitous. It speaks to the deep love and connection between the couple, while reflecting on the universal process we all face (if we’re lucky). The fresh, blissful encounters of youth, and how quickly they spool together to form worn, aged moments.
Craig’s search for a way to build a better home for himself and Irene, both literally and figuratively, is about more than simply refusing to give up. It’s about making something that honours who they are as people, and about creating a place that can house all the memories they share—those behind them and those still to come.
With this film, McGowan adds another success to his long list of accomplishments. And he definitely solidifies his standing as a favourite in my books. I’m thrilled, thankful and honoured that Bliss, my many-years-in-the-making movie, ended up being screened with Still Mine.
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Still Mine opens in Canada on May 3, 2013.Film
Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA 2012, Drama/Fantasy), Writers: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar; Director: Benh Zeitlin
Daughters of the Dust (USA/UK 1991, Drama/Romance), Writer/Director: Julie Dash
I almost wrote about Beast of the Southern Wild in my 2012 year-end “wrap-up,” but I just couldn’t crunch it in; there’s so much to say about it. I still won’t be writing it justice here, largely because it’s been too long since I’ve seen the movie. But here it is anyway. It’s too special not to include. And it continues to remind me of another unique film, which I saw even longer ago, in my film school days, but still want to call to your attention: Daughters of the Dust.
Beasts and Daughters are both first-time feature films by American directors, who explore American subcultures (or co-cultures) by stirring up fantasy and “reality” to create highly unusual, very impactful works. They’re more multimedia poems than traditional narrative movies, relying heavily on atmosphere and setting to capture the spirit of a place and time, and to create lyrical, poignant worlds. The films are also both narrated by otherworldly young girls.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is based on Lucy Alibar’s stage play Juicy and Delicious. Its narrator is the film’s main character, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a six-year-old living in a Louisiana bayou community called the Bathtub. With a missing mother and an ailing, alcoholic father named Wink (Dwight Henry), Hushpuppy is left to raise herself, and she does so with great courage and imagination. As the Bathtub braces for a Katrina-like storm, and Wink’s health deteriorates, the young girl carries on, even as she sees her world flooded with rising waters and stampeding aurochs—fantastical prehistoric creatures that symbolize the impending destruction.
Daughters of the Dust is narrated by the unborn child of the one of the characters. (Though being unborn doesn’t prevent her from gracing the screen now and then, in the form of a spirit.) The film is set in 1902 on a small island off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, which is home to the women of the African-American Peazant family—all members of a Gullah community. As the family prepares to migrate north, their story serves as something of a microcosm, exploring the clash of ancient cultures against modern influences.
There’s a lot more to know about these fascinating films. In addition to being significant and powerful as finished products (Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film by an African-American woman to get a general theatrical release in the U.S.), they each have interesting production backgrounds (Beasts of the Southern Wild involved casting non-actors and working from an unfinished script that was developed throughout the filming process). If you’re interested, check out writer/producer/director Julie Dash’s book, Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film, or the Creators Project documentary on the making of Beasts of the Southern Wild.
I hope you’ll be able to watch the films, too. Beasts of the Southern Wild should be easy to find, as it’s nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress (Wallis). Daughters of the Dust will be a little more elusive, but it’s around—try treasure troves like Ottawa’s Glebe Video International.Film
The Sessions (USA 2012, Drama), Writer/Director: Ben Lewin
Zero Dark Thirty (USA 2012, Drama/History/Thriller), Writer: Mark Boal; Director: Kathryn Bigalow
In the last couple weeks, I saw two wonderful films; both recount true events, both explore extraordinary resilience in the face of tremendous adversity, and both had a very big impact on me.
The Sessions is based on the autobiographical articles and poems of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), an American man who contracted polio as a child and spent most of his adult life in an iron lung. The movie joins Mark at age 38, when he sets about trying to lose his virginity with the help of his priest (William H. Macy), his caretaker (Moon Bloodgood) and a sexual surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt).
Mark’s story is treated with such frankness that the scenes, no matter how intimate they get, never feel voyeuristic or exploitative. He’s spent more than three decades having to submit to others tending to his bodily needs; for Mark, even when it may be embarrassing, discussing his body and putting it in the hands of his caregivers is just a matter of fact. It also helps that Hawkes wickedly captures his character’s sense of humour, injecting the film with a healthy dose of levity.
What I loved most about The Sessions were the performances, and the way it sheds light on so many different ways to live, and look at, life—which is made all the more poignant because the film is based on real people.
The cast is fantastic all-around, from the supporting actors who play Mark’s fleeting caretakers, to the luminous lead actors. I’ve written about Hawkes’ amazing versatility in my reviews of Me and You and Everyone We Know and Winter’s Bone (he was also fantastic, and once again very different, in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I didn’t get around to writing up). In The Sessions, he does it again, this time in a very physically challenging role. Hunt is also excellent, in spite of a laughably uneven Boston accent (I mean that literally; every time the accent resurfaced, my friend, GR, cracked up beside me).
As for the second reason I loved The Sessions, there are plenty of insights shared about contrasting views of the world. They come throughout the film, sometimes from Mark’s caretakers and priest, but most significantly from Mark and Cheryl. Mark’s perseverance and determination to find a way no matter what are the epitome of inspiration. This is a man who, in spite of being effectively paralyzed from the neck down, manages to attend Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, go on to have a successful career in writing, and even co-found a publishing press dedicated to poetry by people with disabilities. Not to mention lead an active sex life. You can read more about Mark’s story in this The New York Times article and in a piece he wrote for The Sun called ‘On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.’
Cheryl’s story is also unique and inspiring, from her deep empathy for her clients, to her unusual approach to marriage, to her unfailing (and all too rare) open-mindedness. I’m curious to read her book, an intimate life: sex, love and my life as a surrogate partner.
The Sessions turns out to be therapeutic for more than just Mark. It leaves you with a lot to think about: that there isn’t only one way to do things; that happiness can exist even in very trying circumstances; and there are wonderful people who not only accept difference, but embrace it.
Now, onto a horse of a different colour: Zero Dark Thirty. This is director Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant depiction of the hunt for, and killing of, Osama Bin Laden, following the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers. Intriguingly, it centres on a female CIA agent named Maya (Jessica Chastain), who played a major role in keeping the investigation going and in discovering Bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan.
Bigelow brings the same standard of excellence and realism to Zero Dark Thirty as she did to The Hurt Locker (see The Hurt Locker review from February 2010). Her latest film is utterly captivating from start to finish. I can’t comment on what liberties may have been taken with real life events, but what I saw was an absolutely mesmerizing account of an important piece of recent history.
As with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow assembled a first-rate cast to pull off the complicated, often upsetting storyline in Zero Dark Thirty. Her team is impeccably led by Chastain, who stole the show in The Tree of Life (see The Tree of Life review from July 2011) and delivers again with Zero Dark Thirty. Not surprisingly, she’s up for a Best Actress Academy Award. (The film is also up for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.)
I would have liked to see Hawkes up for Best Actor for The Sessions, but ah, well… His time will come. And he did score a Best Actor nomination at the recent Golden Globes.
Awarded or not, both these films deserve to be seen.Film
Brick (USA 2005, Mystery), Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Stories We Tell (Canada 2012, Documentary), Writer/Director: Sarah Polley
Les Misérables (USA 2012, Drama/Musical/Romance), Writer: William Nicholson; Director: Tom Hooper
Having seen so many great films in 2012—and with my movie excitement spiked thanks to the recent news that my short film, Bliss, got into the 2013 Vancouver Island Short Film Festival!!—I’m determined to play a bit of catch-up and write one last film post before the New Year strikes. (At least in my time zone.)
Here are a few shortish thoughts on a few of the films that made an impression on me in the past few months:
I rented Brick after discovering Rian Johnson’s brilliance in Looper (see the Looper review from October 2012). Brick is his first feature, and also stars the stupendously talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so I was keen to pick it up. (The last-minute endorsement from my buddy, CG, who hailed it as being even better than Looper, didn’t hurt either.)
Brick is a high school detective movie that elegantly transplants the film noir genre into a crowd of teenagers and comes out the better for it. It casts Brendan (Gordon-Levitt), a brooding loner hell-bent on solving the mystery of his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance, as the detective protagonist, muddling through the regular adolescent challenges such as eating lunch alone, crashing sinister mystery parties and de-coding cryptic messages scrawled on crumpled bits of paper.
The movie triumphs by treating its subject matter with all seriousness. It never makes a punch line of the ludicrousness of mom offering milk and cookies to the gang of villains, or the vice-principal standing in as a corrupt official. Brick is also triumphant because of a stellar performance by Gordon-Levitt and a brilliant, poetic screenplay by Johnson. The script’s lyricism (and occasionally enigmatic dialogue), and the tone Johnson cultivates through his direction, gives the film a special quality that sometimes reminded me of a less trippy Mulholland Drive (see the Mulholland Drive review from October 2010).
On to Stories We Tell. I saw this at The ByTowne in October, and always meant to write about it because it’s absolutely fantastic. Definitely my favourite Sarah Polley film so far, which is saying something, given that it comes after Away From Her and Take This Waltz (see the Away From Her review from July 2007 and the Take This Waltz review from May 2012).
Her latest work documents an unusual family discovery in her adult life: that she was the product of her late mother’s affair, and that the man who raised her isn’t her biological father. Interviewing the characters involved, including her siblings and two fathers, Polley takes an honest and highly intelligent approach to reveal the often contradictory versions of events that each player came away with, and to expose the fact that the stories we tell others and ourselves inform, and therefore sometimes distort, how we see the world.
By presenting these conflicting versions of events rather than marrying them in the editing room to create a single “truth,” she takes us behind the scenes, so to speak, giving us insight into the wonderful world of film and how it can be used to weave a story all its own. She further plays with the medium by intercutting remarkable recreations of her mother’s story (so convincing that I didn’t immediately realize they were recreations), and brings it all home with one last little reveal at the very end. Beautifully done.
Most recently, I saw Les Misérables, dubbed by my sister-date as “The best movie I’ve seen in a long time.” My grandparents took me to see the stage musical many years ago, and I wish they could have seen this film adaptation; they would have loved seeing it, too.
Tom Hooper, the skillful director behind The King’s Speech, really knows how to let his stars shine. In Les Misérables, the esteemed musical set in 19th Century France, he gives them the freedom to be creative in their delivery, occasionally speaking or choking out lyrics rather than singing each note to perfection.
There’s been some backlash to this approach. Critics and musical fans have said that it takes away from the songs’ grandeur. If that’s true, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. The interpretations of these songs certainly aren’t traditional and aren’t always pretty, but I think they pack a lot more emotional punch than do the more presentational versions I’ve heard. And this is an adaptation for film, a medium that allows for much more intimacy and emotional subtlety than the stage. It isn’t meant to serve primarily as a showcase for the music.
To me, Hooper’s approach to the songs works in the same way Christopher Nolan’s character exploration works in the Batman trilogy (see The Dark Knight review from August 2008), or Daniel Craig’s cerebral take on James Bond works in the latest installments of the franchise. They’re powerful and moving because they relate on a more human level than other campier interpretations.
Of course, allowing the acting to shine through the songs would only work with an excellent group of actors. So that’s what Hooper lined up. The entire cast is solid, but standouts include: Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean; Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Éponine (they share a beautifully synchronized trio with Amanda Seyfried as Cosette); the blond imps Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone, who respectively play young Cosette and the little French rebel Gavroche; Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the innkeepers; and of course Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Her I Dreamed a Dream is crushing, a truly stunning piece of acting.
There you have it—the year in review. Sort of. Three very different films, all very worthwhile. Feel free to let me know which movies you recommend for 2013 and beyond!
Happy New Year. I hope it brings wonderful things.Film
Looper (USA 2012, Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller), Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
This is a sort-of film post, about a few recent experiences that have really hit home, or opened new doors in my mind.
The most recent is last Friday’s Bruce Springsteen concert, the first show on the autumn leg of his Wrecking Ball tour. It’s not really film-related, unless you count his beautifully mournful title track to Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (see The Wrestler review from January 2009), or the haunting Streets of Philadelphia—neither of which were played at the concert, but both of which made waves for bringing added power and depth to their respective films. (The recording’s a bit rough, but I love this live version of Streets of Philadelphia from the 1994 Academy Awards.) Still, I can’t seem to stop thinking about it, so I guess for me that translates into being unable not to write about it.
I don’t know if I have words to fully capture the magic of seeing Springsteen perform live with the E Street Band, but I’ll try a few and see where that gets us.
I hadn’t been to a major concert since seeing Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band at last summer’s Bluesfest (see the Tim Robbins review from July 2011), and before that, not since my teens. So that in and of itself made Springsteen’s show a rarity for me. I don’t think it needed the boost, though. Feeling the energy of the crowd, and knowing they’d been brought together by one man’s incredible talent and spirit, was profoundly moving. (As my sister said, “Can you imagine being in a room with this many people and knowing they’re all in love with you?”)
That electricity was alive throughout the entire three-plus hours Springsteen was onstage. No opening act, just the band and Bruce charging the stage, and Springsteen getting into it with his harmonica. And then his guitar. And his magnificent voice. He made me love songs I’d only liked before, and blew me away with some of my favourites from his collection.
There’s something transformative about watching a live performance by someone like that—someone who’s so very good at what they do. Even his cheers to the crowd were perfectly on pitch. He’s so comfortable with his instruments that he can play kneeling back onto the stage, arms outstretched. And he’s so at ease with his adoring fans that he’ll let them strum his guitar, or grab hold of his body, or even crowd surf him from one stage to another.
Maybe he’s comfortable letting them touch him because of how deeply he’s touched all of us. It must be staggering to hear thousands of people singing along to the words you wrote, humming the notes you assembled. Springsteen seems to have held onto a deep appreciation for his fans; he often closed his eyes and beamed as the audience eagerly chanted out his lyrics, or after a particularly energetic song, relishing the opportunity to perform.
It was amazing to hear such a wonderful mix of instruments, from bass to accordion to keyboards to saxophone to violin, and to get to watch the parts they play in each composition. The songs took on a life that can’t be captured in an audio recording. And Springsteen’s interaction with the crowd is something I’ll never forget. At one point, he hoisted two kids onstage and handed over the mic so they could sing and egg on the E Street Band. One woman requested that he play Queen of the Supermarket, which he did solo, beautifully; another held up a sign that read “Dance with me, it’s my 25th birthday!” and wound up in his arms.
The concert was easily one of the most special experiences of my life; I still shake my head in wonder at how one person can hold such talent and creativity.
Which brings me to the second recent experience I want to cover here, one that happened a couple weeks before the Wrecking Ball show. I saw the movie Looper. I’m not going to get into the film too much, other than to say that it’s the most clearheaded film I’ve seen about time travel and that I recommend it highly. The reason I’m including it here is that it cemented my growing interest in its star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I never saw his sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, so I began discovering him gradually once his movie career took off. Every time I saw him perform, regardless of whether or not I liked the film (and I almost always did), I was amazed by his depth and range.
Looper, which features a fabulous performance from Gordon-Levitt as a young man Joe named (to Bruce Willis’ older version of the same Joe) who assassinates people from the future, sealed the deal on my interest in the actor and got me curious enough to do a little digging. In no time, I found HITRECORD, an “open-collaborative production company” Gordon-Levitt founded to bring artists of all kinds together to share and create. (I also quickly discovered that the actor has many other talents to his name, including writing and singing.)
I’m so impressed and inspired by his efforts to stimulate art and create connections. Having discovered his website shortly before seeing Springsteen’s show definitely fed into my appreciation for the concert, and the power that art holds to unite people.
A couple weeks further back, I was fortunate enough to see Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway play If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. Here’s another outstanding American actor with incredible depth, who not only knows how to work the camera but also possesses a magnetic stage presence. I’ll freely admit that Gyllenhaal is the reason I got a ticket to the show. But I’m glad he drew me to it, because it really was a great production.
I could write a lengthy essay on If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, but considering this is something of a three-way post, I’ll curb my enthusiasm. The play is written by British playwright Nick Payne, and, within the inner turmoil of a family, manages to exemplify and explore the damaging effects we have on our environments—within and outside the home. George (the excellent Brian F. O’Byrne) is obsessed with protecting the planet from global warming, at the expense of the happiness of his wife, Fiona (Michelle Gomez), and daughter, Anna (Annie Funke), who is badly bullied at school and dangerously unhappy in life. Terry (Gyllenhall) is George’s clueless and confused younger brother, who blows through their home like some gale force, a much-needed disruption that makes it very clear that something is wrong in the family’s world (and beyond).
The production features minimalist set design, including a pile of props that actors pull from as needed, and a really cool water effect that starts the play out with a curtain of “rain,” and provides a convenient moat into which the actors toss furniture and other bits throughout the show—the residue of their messy lives polluting the world around them.
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet explores some interesting issues, and, as I said, easily warrants a longer write-up. I’m including it here because it was part of a string of recent events or discoveries (there are others, but these are three at the top) that deepened my awareness and appreciation of some pretty impressive artists. It’s always exciting and somewhat surreal to see very well known actors perform live, and watching Gyllenhaal’s play hammered home the fact that he’s a force to be reckoned with. (If you get the chance, the play runs through December 23, 2012 at the Roundabout Theatre Company, one of New York’s few—and leading—not-for-profit theatres.)
Discovering HITRECORD was an eye-opener, not only to how awesome Gordon-Levitt is, but to what wonderful, collaborative things are going on out there, particularly in the digital world. It reminds me of some of the ideas explored in Kickass Canadian Clarke Mackey’s book, Random Acts of Culture: art is important; art is communal; art is not just for the talented few—it’s for everyone.
And then there’s Bruce. I’ve loved so much of his music for a good two decades or more, been lost in his poetic lyrics and hypnotized by his sound. I can’t wait to explore his older tunes, which remain undiscovered to me. And to see where all this creation, all over the world, will lead.
“Well, there’s another dance; all you gotta do is say yes.”
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For PBo—stay healthy, always.Film
Northwords (Canada 2012, Documentary), Writer: Joel McConvey; Director: Geoff Morrison
The gifted filmmaking team behind The National Parks Project (see The National Parks Project review from July 2011) has done it again. After digging deep into the natural world of 13 national parks in each of Canada’s provinces and territories, they’ve now struck gold in one particular spot—northern Labrador’s Torngat Mountains National Park.
Northwords is an exceptional documentary that follows esteemed CBC Radio host (and Kickass Canadian) Shelagh Rogers and five of her favourite authors on a literary expedition to one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote spaces. Her writerly companions are Joseph Boyden, Sarah Leavitt, Rabindranath Maharaj, Noah Richler and Alissa York. Each has been tasked with finding the words to capture their experience in the north. Shelagh herself is gathering stories for her radio show, The Next Chapter.
While the artists absorb the area’s rich culture, staggering landscape and moving history, the crew—led by Kickass Canadians Joel McConvey, Geoff Morrison and Ryan J. Noth—documents the experience. The result is a remarkable and very rare take on the north, presented by people with extraordinary depth and insights who truly connect with the place.
I had the pleasure of interviewing director/producer Geoff Morrison for my podcast, Keeping Up with the Kickass Canadians. You can hear his thoughts on making Northwords, and what he most hopes viewers get from the project, right here.
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Northwords won Best Documentary at the 2012 Banff World Media International Pilot Competition. It has its Toronto premiere this October 11 at Planet in Focus, and its broadcast premiere October 25 on CBC’s documentary channel. Following its television debut, Northwords will be available at FilmCAN.org, where you’ll find links to the five writers’ e-books and Shelagh’s radio documentary.Film
In the Family (USA 2011, Drama), Writer/Director: Patrick Wang
I owe a big thank you to BD—the person who kick-started this film blog—for recommending In the Family. Actually, she emailed me from Vancouver, where she saw the film a few weeks ago, and told me I HAD to see it and then write about it. Just following orders…
I saw In the Family today at Empire Kanata because its writer, director and star, Patrick Wang, was in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. What a treat that was. He self-financed and is self-distributing the film, and is so genuinely enthusiastic that he follows the movie everywhere it plays. He also emanates the same warmth and compassion that flows throughout the film, making it very clear how In the Family came to be such a human and touching piece.
The movie covers a lot of ground, and that likely has to do with the fact that, in writing the script, Wang says he wasn’t always sure where it was going; he let the process take him where it wanted to take him. So to zoom in a bit for you, the film’s focus is on Joey (Wang), his partner Cody (Trevor St. John) and their six-year-old son Chip (Sebastian Banes). Chip is the biological son of Cody and his former wife, who died during childbirth. But he’s raised by Cody and Joey, both of whom he calls “dad.”
The main action starts up when Cody dies in a car accident, and Joey’s role in his life—and in Chip’s—comes into question. Cody’s will is years out of date, and he and Joey, being a gay couple in Tennessee, never legalized their union. So Cody’s worldly possessions are left in the care of his sister, Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), who takes it upon herself to appropriate Chip, leaving Joey to wrestle with the complexities and legalities of what defines a parent.
That’s the thrust of the film’s drama. But In the Family shines its light on many other societal nooks and crannies. It explores the insidious inequalities gay couples face, even when they’re “accepted” by the family; subtly touches on racism (Joey is Asian); and beautifully examines how so much more can accomplished through communication and understanding than through hostility and aggression.
Even more than that, In the Family looks at life the way we really live it. One of the noteworthy aspects of the film is its pacing and length. It’s just 10 minutes shy of three hours—a running time that’s kept it from several festivals and theatres. The movie got that way because of its patient, lingering exploration of its characters and their lives.
During the Q&A, Wang said he hadn’t planned on such a measured pace, but after seeing the dailies, he fell in love with the flow and knew it was right for his film. As a result, we’re left with a lasting, impactful look at real life. Because we’re privy to those slow-going, regular workaday conversations, or the quiet joy of two people falling in love—without the maudlin score—or the beautiful, quirky nuttiness of kids being kids, we’re invited in to the most intimate moments of Wang’s characters’ lives, be they funny, heartbreaking or simply ordinary.
In addition to lingering shots and a tempered camera, Wang makes some interesting choices with his framing. At times, the camera watches the action from outside, or from a noisy hallway, leaving conversations to go on without us. Wang also obscures our perception by showing only torsos of his characters. Sometimes, they move into frame and we see their faces; other times, they stay just out of full sight throughout the scene.
I asked Wang about some of those aesthetic choices, and he said he’s in love with the idea of mystery, of leaving something up to the audience’s imagination. That is, after all, how we go about real life; we don’t always get the full picture.
In the Family is remarkable because it bravely explores topics that aren’t given their due, and does so in an unconventional way. Wang says he turned down prospective funders because they wanted to turn it into “every other movie.” In the Family is most definitely not that.
What it is, though, is an extremely impressive debut film. (Wang cut his acting and directorial chops on the Boston theatre scene.) The idea for In the Family came to him when he saw two dads playing soccer in a park with their child. As he observed the family, he wondered about their life and what led them to where they were on that day.
Wang brings that same curious, insightful eye to his film. He lets us watch, imagine and discover, sharing his observations with us and inviting us to explore our own.
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For you Ottawans, In the Family is now playing at Empire Kanata. For everyone else, please visit inthefamilythemovie.com for North American release dates. To get the latest news on the movie, ‘Like’ the In the Family Facebook page and follow along on Twitter.
BD, thanks again for another awesome movie recommendation. And GOOD LUCK in Japan! (BD is currently leading Team Canada in the Women’s division at the 2012 World Ultimate Championships in Sakai, Japan.)Film
Moonrise Kingdom (USA 2012, Comedy/Drama/Romance), Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola; Director: Wes Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderfully odd film about wonderfully odd characters. It’s sprouted from the visionary mind of Wes Anderson, the director behind the fabulous Fantastic Mr. Fox and a batch of other live action films about misfits and oddballs (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums). With Moonrise Kingdom, he’s outdone himself.
In his characteristically colourful style, set to an imaginative, pitch-perfect score, Anderson tells the peculiar story of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two unusual New England youngsters who fall in love in the 1960s and run away together—the only way to go when you’re 12 years old and the whole world’s against you. The pair is pursued by a medley of quirky, idiosyncratic characters, including Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), his troupe of Khaki Scouts, Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).
You have to see Moonrise Kingdom to appreciate its special brand of whimsy. It’s a lovely portrait of strange and beautiful people, each with embarrassing foibles and hilarious perspectives, all delivered in perfect deadpan. Pure movie magic. See it to believe it.Film
Take This Waltz (Canada 2012, Comedy/Drama), Writer/Director: Sarah Polley
I’d been looking forward to Take This Waltz since early 2010, when a friend auditioned for it and told me about the great new script from Sarah Polley. I’ll see anything she directs; in fact, her directorial debut, Away From Her (see the Away From Her review from July 2007), inspired me to get this blog going. So it’s not a big leap that I’d be looking forward to her second feature film. But having heard teasers about the storyline, I was even more excited.
I finally saw Take This Waltz at a sneak preview at The ByTowne last month. I was not disappointed—even after a two-year wait.
Set in Toronto, Ontario, Take This Waltz is about Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen), a young married couple whose routine is disturbed when Margot develops feelings for their neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby). The movie is bold, real and courageous. Polley unabashedly explores her characters’ quirks and foibles, without fear of making them unlikable and unattractive, and without worry about causing ripples in the usual flow of romantic comedies.
Compared with Away From Her, Take This Waltz sounds closer to Polley’s own voice—bold and uncensored. It reminds me more of her short film, I Shout Love, than her feature debut, which isn’t surprising given that she adapted the script for Away From Her. Take This Waltz, on the other hand, is a true original. (There’s a great coffee shop scene between Margot and Daniel that gives new meaning to the term “oral sex.”)
I held off on writing this post because I’d been in touch with Take This Waltz editor Christopher Donaldson (through our former Queen’s University film prof, and Kickass Canadian, Clarke Mackey) and wanted to speak to him first. So although I could go on about my take on Polley’s Waltz, I think I’ll let him cut in now; he offers a much more revealing spin on the movie.
Chris is one of Canada’s foremost editors. (Hit TV series Slings & Arrows and Flashpoint are among his many career highlights.) Take This Waltz came his way via its co-producer, Susan Cavan. She showed Chris the script and he “loved it a lot immediately,” he says. “It felt entirely unique, and it was personal to me in a way that, I think if you’re open to it, it can be personal to everyone. You can see yourself reflected constantly in all of the characters’ actions.”
Chris was also thrilled at the possibility of working with Polley, whom he’d long admired. He started an ongoing email dialogue with her about Take This Waltz, which happily led to him landing the editing gig. “Sarah is extremely collaborative,” says Chris. “She wants your input. She wants you to bring everything you have and (your vision) to the project.”
While Polley and the crew got lost in production, Chris was given considerable freedom to construct the movie in his editing suite. “We emailed every day (during production), and Sarah was very specific sometimes on performance and which takes she particularly liked,” he says. “But in terms of the overall shape of scenes, she really let me play.”
Chris’ play led to some pretty great stuff. We talked about some of the scenes that offered him a lot of footage and gave him room to bring his vision to the table. Two in particular, both involving Margot and Daniel, came up: one when they go swimming in a pool, ebbing and flowing into and away from each other; the other when they’re spun every which way on a Scrambler ride, their emotions tossed about to the rhythm of Video Killed the Radio Star.
With both these scenes, says Chris, “You have in your head what you’re going for, but much of what you’re doing is intuitive.” Working from hours of footage of Williams and Kirby, Chris cut and recut until something clicked for him.
“I know the feeling I’m going for, but I don’t know necessarily what that means in terms of putting the picture together,” he says. “With a scene like (the swimming pool scene)… you just keep pushing it forward, shaping and shaping it until that feeling you’re going for, you can feel it emanating from the images. You can step back from it and feel it.”
Chris definitely achieved that. The swimming pool scene stood out in my mind as one to ask about. It’s got a beautiful sense of poetry and limbo to it—floating, suspended, in between. The Scrambler scene also has its own brand of magic, and highlights gorgeous (wordless) emotional exchanges between Margot and Daniel.
There was a third scene I wanted Chris’ take on, this one between Margot and Lou. It’s a moment when Lou tries to process some heavy news. Polley decided to let the actors improvise the scene, something Chris says happened a lot on set.
“Michelle had had a lot of experience improvising in Blue Valentine, and obviously Seth, from his (comedy) background, he’s as comfortable improvising as with anything else,” says Chris. “Having two actors that good at it, there’s an abundance of great material to work from.”
The improvisation is very effective. But what’s most interesting about the scene is that we only see Lou’s reactions. Other than a brief glimpse of her arm, Margot is entirely off-screen.
That scene, and more specifically that approach, says Chris, is one of the main reasons Rogen signed on to play Lou. “It terrified him, I think, and that was part of what made it interesting,” says Chris. “He’s sort of pushing himself… It’s very, very easy for Seth to be funny. He’s a fantastic comedian. He had to really push himself to not fall back on comedy in that scene.”
In the end, one Rogen joke did make it into the scene. But the strength of that moment comes from his ability to tap into a deeper level of emotion. It may not be what most people have come to expect from the actor, but for me, that’s why it works so well. Polley isn’t afraid to take chances, whether they involve casting against type or cutting up the traditional fabric of romantic comedies.
“In a movie like Take This Waltz, you’re not necessarily trying to please everybody at every moment,” says Chris. “You just have to believe that what touches you (in making the film) will touch others as well; that there are other people out there like you and it will touch them, too.”
Chris isn’t concerned about delivering a movie that appeals to all audiences. He quotes a Salon magazine review of Take This Waltz: “It’s not for everybody, but if it’s for you, you’ll never forget it.”
Case in point: Legendary filmmaker Wim Wenders attended a private screening before the movie’s official Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere in 2011. Polley was discouraged when he left immediately afterward. Until, that is, she got an email from Wenders explaining he’d had to leave because the movie affected him so much, he needed time alone “to just walk and think.”
“When I heard that, I thought, ‘That will make up for 1,000 people saying they hate it,’” says Chris. “You just have to trust that there are people out there who will feel for it the same way you do. That’s who you’re making the film for.”
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Take This Waltz opens June 29, 2012. Go see it. Polley has a smart, daring Canadian voice that gets stronger with every project. It should be heard.